ACLU Of Ohio Files Lawsuit Over Jesus Portrait

By
Bethany Venable
Taylor Mirfendereski

Dateline
Updated Thu, Feb 7, 2013 6:23 pm
Photo Credit: 
Jeremiah Shaver, Jackson County Times-Journal

UPDATE 6:17 PM A Southeast Ohio school district is now facing a lawsuit over the district's refusal to remove a portrait of Jesus hanging in the city's middle school.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed the suit in US District Court against the Jackson City School District Thursday.

According to a press release from the ACLU of Ohio, the complaint was filed on behalf of a middle school student, as well as two parents who have children attending school in the district.

Legal representatives from the ACLU of Ohio say the student is a Christian, but feels the picture portrays the Christian faith in a way that distorts his or her beliefs.

The school district's superintendent, Phil Howard, was unavailable for an interview Thursday, but issued a statement responding to news of the lawsuit.

"We are shocked and surprised to hear about this lawsuit. FFRF had asked us to do an investigation, which we started almost immediately," he wrote. "The investigation is almost complete and our attorneys are going to  make a report and recommendations at our next board of education meeting on an appropriate course of action. We have not seen nor been served the lawsuit."

In January, the school district retained Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal group, to investigate the matter. In a statement issued Thursday, a spokesperson for the institute said they believe the lawsuit is premature.

"We reached out to the ACLU and FFRF for dates they would be available to meet, so that we could include their input in the investigation before we made a final report and recommendatino to the Board," said Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute Director of Litigation. "Rather than responding to our request to meet with them, the ACLU and FFRF filed a lawsuit before they even knew what action the Board intended to take.”

Representatives from the institute are scheduled to attend the Jackson City Schools board meeting next week to present their report and recommendation.

Howard previously said he would not remove the picture unless directed by the school board.

The picture in question was donated by a student group in the 1940s and has hung in the building since 1947.


UPDATE 4:53 PM A Southeast Ohio school district is now facing a lawsuit over the district's refusal to remove a portrait of Jesus hanging in the city's middle school.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed the suit in US District Court against the Jackson City School District Thursday.

According to a press release from the ACLU of Ohio, the complaint was filed on behalf of a middle school student, as well as two parents who have children attending school in the district.

Legal representatives from the ACLU of Ohio say the student is a Christian, but feels the picture portrays the Christian faith in a way that distorts his or her beliefs.

The school district's superintendent, Phil Howard, was unavailable for an interview Thursday, but issued a statement responding to news of the lawsuit.

"We are shocked and surprised to hear about this lawsuit. [Freedom From Religion Foundation] had asked us to do an investigation, which we started almost immediately," he wrote. "The investigation is almost complete and our attorneys are going to  make a report and recommendations at our next board of education meeting on an appropriate course of action. We have not seen nor been served the lawsuit."

Howard previously said he would not remove the picture unless directed by the school board.

The picture in question was donated by a student group in the 1940s and has hung in the building since 1947.

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